Stabbing suspect claims self-defense

Posted Oct. 30, 2009, at 10:41 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Eddington man accused of trying to kill his 37-year-old estranged wife and her 42-year-old boyfriend told a jury Friday that he acted in self-defense when he stabbed the man 11 times in the back 16 months ago.

Ryan Witmer, 33, took the stand on the fifth day of his trial in Penobscot County Superior Court on an array of charges, including aggravated attempted murder. He denied that he went to the Orrington home he had shared with his estranged wife on June 28, 2008, to kill his now ex-wife and the man she has said she intends to marry.

Witmer testified that even though he knew he was violating a protection from abuse order, he went to the house that night to check on the couple’s then 7-month-old daughter.

“I felt I was morally obligated to check on my daughter because I had this overwhelming fear for her,” Witmer said.

His testimony differed sharply from what his ex-wife and her boyfriend told the jury on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Both said that Witmer initiated the attack after he broke into the house.

Witmer and his now ex-wife separated in May 2008 after six years of marriage. She told him on Witmer’s 32nd birthday that she wanted a divorce, he testified. The two had met in 2000 or 2001 when both worked as case managers at Community Health and Counseling Services in Bangor.

He moved in late May or early June 2008 to Eddington to live with his mother, according to previous testimony. The permanent protection from abuse order was issued on June 27 after an incident about two weeks earlier when, his ex-wife said, Witmer approached the house carrying a gun. He was not able to get into the house that night because his estranged wife had changed the locks.

Witmer said Friday that he had planned to enter the garage and sneak down a set of stairs and into the basement. Once in the basement, he planned to use a second set of stairs to reach the first floor, then go up a central staircase to the second floor, where his daughter slept.

He told the jury that when he unexpectedly found the door to the basement stairs locked, he kicked in the door from the garage to a mudroom. Once inside the house, he went through the kitchen to the family room toward the stairs to the second floor, but his estranged wife blocked the stairs.

Witmer testified that he saw his estranged wife’s boyfriend, who has a black belt in tae kwan do, a self-defense system, when he turned away from her on the stairs and went into the living room. He described the man as “standing in a martial arts fight stance.”

“I froze,” he testified. “I felt like a deer in the headlights. [He] said, ‘You have no idea what you’re getting into with me.’”

Witmer said the man used a “roundhouse kick” to knock him to the ground. The two began fighting but stopped when the family dog came between them. The defendant said that his estranged wife dragged the dog away.

Witmer said he eventually got away from the man and backed from the living room into the kitchen, where he fell onto his back after tripping over his daughter’s highchair. Witmer said the man got on top of him and put him in a chokehold.

At the point where he thought he was going to pass out, Witmer said, he managed to get his knife out of his pants pocket and open it, using a button on its side.

“I stabbed him in the armpit and told him to let go of me,” Witmer testified. “I remember stabbing him four more times. I was about to lose consciousness. I felt the knife was my last resort.”

Witmer told the jury that he left the man on the floor in the kitchen, went through the living room and headed up the stairs. His estranged wife stopped him and succeeded in dragging him back downstairs.

The boyfriend, who suffered a collapsed lung, came through the living room from the kitchen and tried to separate Witmer and the woman. In that tussle, Witmer said, he apparently cut his estranged wife.

Witmer told the jury that he then turned the knife around and stabbed himself in the sternum. He fell to the floor, pulled the knife from his midsection and slit his own throat.

On several occasions while being questioned by defense attorney Daniel Lilley of Portland, Witmer became emotional as he testified about the stabbing, but he did not break down.

Witmer’s mother also testified Friday. She said that she had to go to court to be able to see her granddaughter. She also said that earlier this year, the male victim, who now lives with Witmer’s ex-wife, told her not to refer to him by his name in front of the child because she now calls him “Daddy.”

The ex-wife testified that she and the male victim plan to wed and he plans to adopt the girl, who will turn 2 next month.

The trial is expected to resume Monday with Witmer’s cross-examination by Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County.

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